Here’s a very edifying testimony about two young people, Rich and Sabina, who meet, fall in love and marry, and then encounter two major events that change everything for them. Rich narrates their story:
My schooling was poor, but we had many books at home. Before I was ten I had read them all and become as great a skeptic as the Voltaire I admired. Yet religion interested me. I watched the rituals in Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, and once in a synagogue I saw a man I knew praying for his sick daughter. She died the next day, and I asked the rabbi, ‘What God could refuse such a desperate prayer?’ and he had no answer. I could not believe in an all-powerful being who left so many people to starve and suffer, still less that he had put on earth one man of such goodness and wisdom as Jesus Christ.
I grew up and went into the business world of Bucharest. I did well, and before I was twenty-five I had plenty of money to spend in flashy bars and cabarets and on the girls of ‘Little Paris,’ as they called the capital. I did not care what happened so long as my appetite for fresh sensation was fed. It was a life which many envied, yet it left me in great distress of mind. I knew it to be counterfeit and that I was throwing away like trash something in me that was good and which could be put to use. Although I was sure there was no God, I wished, in my heart, that it was otherwise, that there should be a reason for existing in the universe.
One day I went into a church and stood with other people before a statue of the Virgin. They were praying, and I tried to say with them, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace…’ but I felt quite empty. I said to the image, ‘Really, you are like stone. So many plead, and you have nothing for them.’
After my marriage, I continued to pursue other girls. I went on chasing pleasure, lying, cheating, asking myself no questions, hurting others, until, at twenty-seven, these excesses combined with early privations to bring on tuberculosis. It was at that time a dangerous disease and it seemed for a while that I might die. I was afraid. At a sanatorium in the countryside I rested for the first time in my life. I lay looking out at the trees, and thought about the past. It came back to me like scenes from an agonizing play. My mother wept for me; my wife had wept; so many harmless girls had wept. I had seduced and slandered, mocked and bluffed, all for a sham. I lay there and tears came.
In that sanatorium I prayed for the first time in my life, the prayer of an atheist. I said something like this: ‘God, I know that You do not exist. But if perchance You exist, which I deny – it is for You to reveal Yourself to me; it is not my duty to seek You.’
My whole philosophy had been materialistic until then, but my heart could not be satisfied with it. I believed in theory that man is only matter and that, when he dies, he decomposes into salt and minerals. Yet I had lost my father, and had attended other funerals, and I could never think of the dead except as people. Who can think of his dead child or wife as a heap of minerals? It is always the beloved person who remains in the mind. Can our minds be so mistaken?
My heart was full of contradictions. I had passed hours in noisy places of amusement among half-naked girls and exciting music, but I liked also to take lonely walks through cemeteries, sometimes on winter-days when snow lay heavy on the graves. I said to myself: ‘One day I, too, will be dead and snow will fall on my tomb, while the living will laugh, embrace and enjoy life. I shall be unable to participate in their joys; I shall not even know them. I will simply not exist any more. After a short time, nobody will remember me. So what use is anything?’